14 OCTOBER 1876, Page 5


"The Life of the Prince Consort" con- tains a very remarkable memorandum by that great political wire-puller, Baron Stockmar,—on whose considerable part in guiding the counsels of Europe we commented in a series of papers in 1872,—on the relations between the English Constitution and the Monarch. It was written in January, 1854, at the time of the great outcry concerning Prince Albert's supposed manceuvring against Lord Palmerston's Turkish policy, and of the violent attacks made upon the Coburg influence behind the Throne, and was intended to define, first, the poli- tical influence to which the constitutional monarch of this country is not merely entitled, but for the nation's own sake bound, to lay claim,—and next, the proper position of the Sovereign's husband as her nearest and most legitimate con- stitutional adviser. With this latter part of the memorandum we do not at present intend to deal. It has been very frequently discussed since the Prince Consort's death, and no one of any knowledge or political sagacity, so far as we know, now doubts that the Prince kept strictly within his right and natural province as the Queen's most intimate adviser ; and that the jealousy felt of his influence at the time of the Crimean war, though it was all but inevitable considering the attitude of the German Courts with which the Prince was most closely connected, was,—even had the Prince's views really been all they were supposed to be, —vain and idle, and rather akin to the sort of grumblings so often poured out on individuals or races for not being other than they are, than to any practical protest against undue influence or excessive arrogation of privilege. As Baron Stockmar very justly remarked, "Nature existed before the Constitution," and, of course, it followed that a Queen, full of her duties as a wife and a mother, would go to her husband for advice in matters which he could study more fully than she, and that to debar her from doing so, even if it were possible, would be to place her in a false relation, "fatal to the intimate confidentiality of the married state." That seems to us, we confess, to dispose practically of the whole of that part of the question, so far as it was ever really raised by the conduct of the Prince Consort. Of course, it would have been idle, and more than idle,—the probable cause of a needless exaggera- tion of the Consort's personal influence,—for the Ministers of the Crown to have insisted on ignoring the husband, and receiving no communication which did not on the face of it come solely from the Queen,—a course the only effect of which would have been to foster the secret influence of the husband over the wife, and to prevent that free communication between the Ministers and the author of the advice given, which would best conduce to a frank, mutual explanation, and a practical re- cognition of the influences actually bearing on the mind of the Sovereign. To this part of the Memorandum of Baron Stockmar, therefore, we have nothing further to say. The controversy as to the legitimacy of the Prince's counsel was idle. The true issue was that as to the prerogative of the Throne itself. The real difficulty in such a crisis as 1854,—and we may be very near another crisis of the same character,—was not as to how far it was right that the Prince's own view should influence that of the Queen his wife,—but as to how far it was right for the responsible Ministers to be influenced by their Sovereign, whether her view of the situation was solely due to her own reflections, or in part also to the indirect sway exercised over her mind by the opinions of the Prince Consort. On this latter subject Baron Stockmar's opinions were very strong. He held that a Constitutional monarch ought to exert a great influence in modifying the policy of the State ; that Prime Ministers, however able and patriotic, are principally and in the first instance party chiefs, who cannot but be anxious to please the party of which they are the leaders, even by admin- istrative acts prejudicial to the State, and who cannot but desire to increase their majority without taking sufficient regard to the welfare of the whole nation ;—that the monarch, therefore, ought to exert his full intellectual and moral power in consulting with them, to counteract this danger; and further, that in countries where the constitutional monarch has gained the confidence of the people, and thus has accumulated, as it were, a considerable political capital which it is quite possible to use in trimming the balance of the Constitution, he should lend an additional sanction to any element in it that happens to be artificially weak, and also, we suppose,—though Baron Stockmar rather avoids this side of the question, perhaps because it was too delicate,—endeavour to check any that happens to be artificially preponderant. On both these heads Baron Stockmar is very eloquent, and he urges his point with a certain scorn for the English party chiefs which is not a little remarkable. "The twaddle," he writes, "about Ministers being responsible to the nation for every fault of head or heart will not keep matters straight. Where the object is how to keep the State in health, our object should be not to cure a complaint by severe remedies after it has broken out, but to protect it against disease. Ministerial responsibility in these days, for such Ministers as are incapable, and, at any rate, for such as are un- scrupulous, is a mere bugbear. The responsible Minister may do the most stupid and mischievous things. If they are not found out, he may even continue to be popular ; if they do come to light, it only costs him his place. He resigns or is removed,— that is all,—the whole punishment, the whole restitution made for the mischief done to the common weal. But who could have averted, whose duty was it to avert the danger, either wholly or in part ? Assuredly he, and he alone, who, being free from party passion, has listened to the voice of an independent judgment. To exercise this judgment is, both in a moral and a constitutional point of view, a matter of right, nay, a positive duty. The Sovereign may even take a part in the initiation and the maturing of Government measures ; for it would be unreasonable to expect that the King himself, as able, as accomplished, as patriotic as the best of his Ministers, ahould be prevented from making use of those qualities at the deliberations of his Council." And again, "Are we to allow crack-brained sciolists in politics to deny to the Crown the right and power to keep Ministers to the fulfilment of their duty, and not to suffer the Crown, and with it the entire Commonweal to come to destruction ? And, in fact, again and again since the Re- form Act we have had Ministers who, in defending the most unquestionable Crown rights, have shown nothing but lulte- warmness, timidity, and above all, that maladroitness which comes from want of good-will. The old Tories who, before the Reform Bill, were in power for fifty years, had a direct interest in upholding the prerogatives of the Crown ; and they did up- hold them manfully, although the Hanoverian Kings, by their immoral, politically exceptionable, dynastic or private wishes or interests, made the task anything but an easy one. As a race, these Tories have died out, and the race which in the present day bears their name are simply degenerate bastards. Our Whigs, again, are nothing but partly conscious, partly unconscious, Republicans, who stand in the same rela- tion to the Throne as the wolf does to the lamb. And these Whigs must have a natural tendency to push to excess the constitutional fiction,—which, although undoubtedly of old standing, is fraught with danger,—that it is uncon- stitutional to introduce and make use of the name and person of the Sovereign in the public debates on matters bearing on the Constitution. But if the English Crown permit a Whig Ministry to follow this rule in practice, without exception, you must not wonder if, in a little time, you find the majonty. of the people impressed with the belief that the King, in the view of the law, is nothing but a mandarin figure, which has to nod as head in assent, or shake it in denial, as his Minister pleases.' To this very ably-worded teaching, Baron Stockmar adds a curious passage, maintaining that it is one of the chief duties of the Crown, in such a reign as the present, to use its popu- larity in aid of the (for the time) weakest element of the Con- stitution, the House of Lords, and he distinctly praises Sir Robert Peel for having turned the popularity of the Throne to

this good account during his administration, and so trimmed theldisturbed balance of the Constitution. Of the Tories of 1854 he speaks with contempt as "politicians of the Aberdeen school, who treat the existing Constitution merely as a bridge to a Republic ;" and elsewhere, as we have already seen, he calls them "degenerate bastards," while he regards the Whigs as "unconscious Republicans," who play towards the Sovereign the part which the wolf plays to the lamb.

Now what judgment should be given as to the political value and the political danger of these estimates of the peculiar position of an English Constitutional monarch ? First, this, —that Baron Stockmar is perfectly right—indeed Mr. Bagehot, who wrote on the Constitution from a very different point of view entirely agrees with him—as to the weight which any able and disinterested Constitutional monarch must have, if only through the combined effect of sagacity, social position, and impartiality, on the counsels of his Ministers, —a weight, no doubt, varying directly with the amount of his sagacity and disinterestedness, on the one hand, and with the ministerial capacity for recognising sagacity and disinterested- ness on the other. But we must add that in our opinion Baron Stockmar was wrong, and seriously wrong, in arguing that in ordinary times it was desirable that this influence should be a confessed and publicly recorded influence, —declared, and therefore, open to animadversion in Parlia- mentary debate and the public Press. For the very con- dition of the utility of this influence, is that complete dis- interestedness and intrinsic rationality which would naturally influence a party man to abate something of the intensity of his party view. But once published, and criticised by the party to whose views such an influence is adverse, it would at once appear as an effort to override the force of popular opinion, and so lose for the public all its disinterested and purely impartial character,—for Kings have hardly ever the means of so impressing their personal character on the nation as they have of impressing it on the advisers with whom they are constantly consulting. There cannot be a doubt, for instance, that, intrinsically weighty as the Prince Consort's memorandum written before the Crimean war un- questionably was for the Queen's Ministers who knew him, its only legitimate influence was the influence which its reason- ing really exercised on their minds. If it had been referred to in Parliament as the opinion of the Throne, it would have been regarded, and, we think, not unjustly regarded, as proceeding from dynastic influences, and as a most im- proper attempt to override popular opinion ; but that aspect would have been given to it by its publication, and not by its private circulation amgng the Cabinet, who had full power either to ignore it, or to accept just so much of it as recommended itself to their own minds, and no more. Baron Stockmar's notion that the political advice of a Constitutional King may be publicly recognised and discussed as a weighty element in the formation of public opinion, appears to UB founded in a complete mistake as to such a monarch's relations with the State. In the first place, he has no means of impressing on the public at large, and would fail to impress on them, the one condition of the real value of his opinion,—its independence and sincerity. He would be supposed to be fighting for the power of the Throne by all who did not know him so well as to discern the intrinsic purity and force of his mind. In the next place, even if the disinterestedness of his advice could be known to the public, the mere fact that, coming from so high a quarter, it avowedly told against the interests of a great party, would make it un- popular, raise prejudice against it in multitudes of minds, and so diminish for the future the power of the Throne. Baron Stockmar was clearly wrong in wishing to see the purely intellectual and moral influence of a Constitutional Monarch over his Cabinet publicly admitted and deferred to. That is precisely the one condition which would neutralise, and per- haps even reverse, the good effects which it might otherwise produce.

In the next place, we more than doubt the wisdom of Baron Stockmar's view that it is the duty of the monarch to use his popularity to restore the disturbed balance of the complex elements in the Constitution,—as, for instance, to prop up the power of the Lords, where the effect of Reform had been to carry the centre of gravity of the State into the House of Commons. We do not believe that since the Reform Act .a British monarch could have done this, nor that any British monarch has since done it. Of course it is possible that the monarch's insight and sagacity might lead the Prime Minister to include one or two able Peers in the Government who might otherwise have been excluded, and he might so, in- directly and almost infinitesimally, increase the influence of the House of Peers. But for a monarch, however able, to add directly by his own efforts any real weight to the Constitutional influence of the Lords,—at a time when they were losing weight with the country,—would be as impossible as to prevent their gaining that weight if it ever happened that the Commons were losing popularity in consequence of the bad materials at hand for representatives, while the Peers, by virtue of (say) a new and more complete discipline adopted by their caste in preparing their heirs for a political career, were gaining it, and introducing new vitality into the discussions of the Upper House. Moreover, any organised endeavour on the part of the monarch to resist the set of the natural currents which deter- mine the weight of different elements in the Constitution, would be as imprudent as it would be useless. The monarch can no more help the Lords to be public-spirited, or the Commons to be sober and self-restrained, than either of these bodies can help the monarch to be able, far-sighted, and sagacious. Baron Stockmar was a wise man, but like all tutors of the great, he was a little in danger of exaggerating the nimbus which encircled the heads of his pupils. In this Memorandum, full of ability as it is, he certainly made two grave mistakes,—in objecting to the reticence of Ministers as to the views of the Sovereign, and in trying to convince his royal intimates not only that they could exercise a great constitutional influence on the minds of their Ministers, which was true, but that they could to any appreciable extent so manipulate the machinery of the Consti- tution as to give artificial importance to that element in it which, from other causes, was losing it, or subtract it from that element in it which was gaining it anew.